Waste of a vote?

We can all probably agree that the winner of this year’s presidential election is going to be either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, so what’s the purpose of voting for someone else?  Aren’t you throwing away your vote?  Isn’t voting for a third-party candidate a waste?

Voting for a third-party candidate is not only not a waste, but it’s a very powerful vote – one could say it’s more powerful than a vote for one of the two mainstream candidates.  Serious votes (no, Elmo doesn’t count) for non-partisan candidates are courageous and optimistic, and the most important votes, in my opinion, for three main reasons.

First of all, a vote for a third-party candidate sends a message to our government that is supposed to represent us: you’re not representing me.  Neither party is representing me, and I want something different.  If, for example, you are opposed to the Patriot Act, neither Obama nor Romney will truly represent your informed opinion on the issue.  If you are opposed to an unprovoked invasion of Iran, neither mainstream candidate shares your view.  A vote for someone else tells our policy makers that they don’t have the support they think they have.  If you substantially disagree with both of the main candidates but vote for one of them anyways, you can’t seriously expect a change in policy to match your views anytime in the near future.

Second of all, saying that a non-mainstream vote is a waste – and voting for a Democrat or Republican as a result – is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The claim that voting for the Green Party, the Communist Party or the Libertarian Party is a waste of a vote is not just cynical; it negatively impacts the movement to take these serious political movements seriously.  If people do this knowingly, it’s not even cynicism anymore – it’s ideologically subversive.  Ideas and theories should be argued on merit, free from the browbeating of public opinion and pessimism.

Finally and most importantly, voting against your personal convictions is dishonest.  A vote is a statement of preference that happens to be the foundation of democracy.  It’s sacred, and I don’t use that word lightly.  Not everyone feels this way, and I understand the perspective of someone who votes for one politician over their favorite on the grounds that their favorite won’t win, and the voter really doesn’t want some dreaded other competitive candidate in office.  I can’t bring myself to lie to myself and the government like that (is that not what is happening?), but I can understand and empathize with those who do.  However, when they turn around and say that my vote is a waste, it rubs me the wrong way.  My vote is a waste?  I vote for the candidate that most accurately and honestly represents my values and reflects the methods of governing that I think will best benefit the nation.  If that’s a wasted vote, I don’t know what a real vote looks like.

A vote for Jill Stein is not “basically” a vote for Romney, nor is a vote for Gary Johnson “basically” a vote for Obama.   A vote for Obama is a vote for Obama, and a vote for Romney is a vote for Romney.  With Stein, Johnson, Goode and Anderson, it’s the same story.  Before calling a vote for one of these lesser-known presidential candidates “wasted,” it’s worth considering whether the candidate in question might be better qualified or more in line with your own convictions than whoever it is you intend to vote for, and what your own motivations are for calling their vote inferior or less valuable than your own.

No honest and informed vote is wasted, and our great democracy is richer when represented by a multitude of views and political opinions, not poorer.  What makes it poor is when the variety of voices is diluted and condensed from that pluralistic symphony to a dissonant duet.  A third opinion offered with sincerity is never a waste.